Tuesday, June 2, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x07 - At Long Last, Sweet Revenge

Oh Game of Thrones. You horrible horrible show. One week you end on a brutal rape shot in the most horrifying way possible, the next week you end on a moment that was immensely satisfying for pretty much everyone. Good work. I'm annoyed. I assume that's what you were going for.

But I guess what's really worth getting at here is that the ending of this week's episode, like the rest of the episode, was actually a lot less satisfying than it initially felt. Or rather, there's something bothersome about how when you peel back the layers of "Finally!" and "Yeah, suck it!" that you feel at the end of this episode, we have to admit that this week also ended on a powerful woman having her agency taken away. And that's problematic. It would be the massive understatement of the year to say that Game of Thrones has a woman problem, but I think it's worth pointing out how this week especially, not a single storyline contained a female character who was well and truly free. Not really.

So. This week's episode goes back to all those storylines we mostly ignored last week, catching us up on Daenerys and Jon Snow while we also kept chugging along with Sansa and the King's Landing crowd. It was much more unified in terms of storylines than previous episodes, but it lacked a real overarching theme. Pretty much just an episode where the storylines all progress but get no real closure.

And that's fine. We need some episodes where the plot inches forward, but I'll admit that this week felt like we were treading water until the revelations at the end. It was an episode that could have just as easily been about ten minutes long and only consisted of climactic revelations and we would have all wasted a lot less time.

Since wasting your time is my job, however, I will now tell you everything that happened.

Up in the North, Jon is getting ready to go off with his men to rescue the Willdlings trapped North of the Wall. The Night's Watch is super not thrilled about this life choice, but he's determined. And, frankly, I think it's the right choice. It's strategic and it might piss some people off, but who cares? Most of them will be pissed off no matter what he does. 

Jon has to leave someone in charge, so he picks Ser Thorne. He is the most logical choice, but there's something really worrisome about Jon giving command of Castle Black to the man who most challenged him for its command. Also, Ser Thorne is very honest about his views on Jon's mission. Like Jon says, we appreciate your honesty. Now shut up.

The real problem at Castle Black isn't Jon, though. It's Sam and Gilly who, now that Maester Aemon is passing away, have no one left to protect them from the baser elements. Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam have become very close with Aemon, and they're the ones sitting by his bedside when he passes. But then he does pass and they have to burn his body (to keep it from the White Walkers). Sad day. 

Especially sad because now there is pretty much no one left in Castle Black who is friendly to the two of them. Granted, Sam is really the only person who knows how things work, so he's needed, but the average guards on the Wall don't know or care about that. So when they come in and harass Gilly, threatening to rape her, and Sam tries to stop them, there's no one there to keep the guards from beating Sam to a pulp.

No one, that is, until Jon's direwolf, Ghost, turns up. He growls the attackers away and then disappears back to where he came from. Where did he come from? Where has Ghost been all this time? So many questions.

At any rate, Gilly and Sam have to patch themselves up, and Gilly wants to make sure that he never does something reckless like that again. Her line to him is heartbreaking: "Next time you see something like that, you move along." They both acknowledge that there will be a next time and Gilly is not optimistic about her ability to stay safe in the castle. But Sam refuses to back down. She's his love and Little Sam is his (adopted) son. He'll keep them both safe to the best of his ability, no matter what.

Then the tension that has really not been building for the past two seasons, you know, that simmering sexual tension that Gilly and Sam don't actually have, comes to a head and they makeout then have sex. This was probably the least convincing scene of the episode for me, because Sam has several broken ribs and can barely move and Gilly has just nearly been raped, but sure. Fine. Whatever. They have sex because they're both so into the idea of doing it and not because the producers demanded another sex scene. Totally.

Also in the North, though not nearly as important to the story, Stannis and Davos are stuck in the snow between the Wall and Winterfell. Davos thinks they should turn back, but Stannis insists that if he retreats now he'll be stuck wintering at Castle Black, which would be terrible for everyone. Also their mercenaries have deserted them, leaving them low on soldiers and trapped in a blizzard. Awesome.

As he always does when not sure what to do, Stannis turns to Melisandre, she of the creepy smile. She explains that she is absolutely certain he will conquer Winterfell. She has seen it. He just has to do a little something first. He has to sacrifice "king's blood", like he did before. The problem? There's only one little bit of king's blood left up here in the North: Shireen. Melisandre wants Stannis to sacrifice his daughter to make him King in the North.

He refuses and is horrified and has all those reactions we actually want someone to have, but sadly this does nothing to dissuade Melisandre. She's convinced that Shireen needs to die, and I have to wonder if she's going to get her way. She usually does.

A little further south, in Winterfell, things are seriously dire for Sansa. I mean, we knew they were dire last week when she was being forcibly raped while her foster brother had to watch, but it's actually managed to get worse. Now Ramsay keeps her locked in a room all the time and comes in at night to beat and rape her. Ugh. Theon/Reek is the only one allowed in to see her, and she begs him for help. Light a candle and place it in the highest window of the broken tower, she begs him. And for a minute it looks like he'll do it. He'll call for aid and bring the wrath of Brienne down on them all.

But he doesn't. He's still a broken, useless man and he goes straight to his master with this information. So Ramsay is all sweet and nice, takes Sansa out for a walk while they talk about the future, then shows her the flayed body of the old woman who was Sansa's only ally in Winterfell. What a bastard. 

Which is basically what Sansa says to him, pointing out that Ramsay was legitimized by Tommen, another bastard, and that he matters very little. It's a moment of sheer badass, speaking truth to her abuser, but in general Sansa's scenes are very hard to watch.

And speaking of watching, that's apparently all Brienne is doing. Standing a little ways away from Winterfell staring at that tower and waiting for the light. Ugh.

Okay. Down in Dorne, we're picking back up with our heroes, who had all been carted off to prison together. Jaime is being granted a moment to speak to his "niece", to make sure that she's really all right. Myrcella is straight up baffled about why her Uncle Jaime is here, especially since she was the one who was carted off to Dorne to keep her safe in the first place. This is her home. She's been here for years now. Trystane is her betrothed and she is lucky enough to love him. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with Jaime for trying to kidnap her and take her to King's Landing?

Jaime, for his part, really can't explain why he's there. He can't say, "I'm actually your father and your mother thinks you might be in danger because her champion brutally killed your fiance's uncle." That would be very awkward. So he has no defense, and frankly, he is in the wrong here. As Myrcella rightly points out, "You don't even know me." You go girl. But apparently we're supposed to be on Jaime's side? Whatever.

Down in the cells, the Dornish guards have very smartly put Bronn in a cell away from the Sand Snakes. So he's annoying them with his singing, of course. Some of the Snakes are happy to just ignore him, but one of them - I don't know their names yet, but the one who is Ellaria's daughter - decides to engage. She wants to know if he thinks she's the most beautiful woman in the world. He doesn't until she shows him her boobs, then he does, then she poisons him, then she promises to give the antidote only if he swears she's the most beautiful woman in the world. This is a scene that really happened. I have no idea why.

Presumably something will come of this later? But mostly it just established the Sand Snakes as not being above the tragically horrible way that the Game of Thrones writing room views women. Clearly all women are obsessed with their own vanity and can think of nothing else. Literally nothing else. 

Anyway, the story takes us next to Meereen (or thereabouts) where Jorah and Tyrion are up for slave auction. Jorah sells for a fair price to a man who wants to put him in the fighting pits, but Tyrion has to work quickly to get himself sold to the same man. Granted, the fighting pits aren't really a place where Tyrion is apt to thrive, but it's better than being mutilated for the magical properties of his bits.

Daenerys is still getting ready for her state wedding to Hizdahr but Daario has a counter offer. She should marry him instead. He loves her and he'd be better than that slave-master. Daenerys points out that she, as queen, really can't do whatever she wants, and Daario tells her she must be the only person in Meereen who is not free. Ouch. Ouch, dude.

He also has some further advice: Hizdahr is almost definitely the leader of the Sons of the Harpy. So gather all of the great and good masters of the city on the day of the fighting pits and kill them all. Daenerys tells him she has no wish to be a butcher, but as Daario explains, "All rulers are either butchers or meat." 

At any rate, the subject is tabled for now so that Daenerys can go witness the lower pit fighting in honor of the great traditions of the city of Meereen. Hizdahr insists she stay with him even though the fighting visibly disturbs Daenerys. She's seen enough of violence, and the idea that all of this is happening her in name seriously bothers her.

Then Jorah spots his lady love and all hell breaks loose. He fights his way into the pit, defeats everyone, pulls off his helmet, and is met by Daenerys' horrified face. She still doesn't want to see him, but he pulls out his ace card. He brought her a gift. And as Tyrion rushes forward, the two (probably half-siblings) finally get a real look at each other. Wonder what they'll manage to do together.

Last we have all the crap of King's Landing. Let's see. Lady Olenna is incensed that her grandchildren have been locked up by a religious court, and she goes to the High Sparrow to get them out. But the High Sparrow won't be moved. He's much more dangerous than he seems, making the point to her that she is highborn. She does not know how to grow her own wheat. She has never worked a field. The few exist on the backs of the many. What happens when the many cease to fear them?

I may deeply disagree with this guy and his brand of political radicalism, but I have to admit that he has a point. The Sparrows are enacting a much needed shakeup in King's Landing. I just wish they weren't targeting the wrong people all the time.

Tommen wishes that too, and he's inconsolable. Sadly, he still thinks that his mother is a vaguely nice person and asks for her help to get Margaery out of the prison. He's devastated that as King he has virtually no power here, and Cersei insists that she'll do all she can to help. Obviously, she won't.

Also Lady Olenna and Littlefinger get a nice moment, just the two of them, to talk about how they're bound to each other because of how they killed Joffrey that one time. Littlefinger offers her a piece of information, but the camera doesn't linger long enough for us to know what it is. I'm not sure. It could be anything, from Lancel Lannister and his dirty secrets to our good friend Gendry Waters and the truth of his birth. Who knows.

The big finale, though, comes when Cersei goes down to the Sept to see Margaery. For some reason Margaery is not happy with her mother-in-law and spits at her and calls her a bitch. Cersei is all smug and happy until she goes to see the High Sparrow. After much beating around the bush, the High Sparrow finally finally finally gets down to the business I think we've all wanted him to get to all along. He brings out Lancel and explains that Brother Lancel told them many things about Cersei. Things that she must face the consequences for.

So Cersei is carted off screaming to be thrown in a cell herself, finally lowered and reaping the deep consequences of "living by the sword". Or by the power play aided by religious fanaticism, that is. 

But as satisfying as this moment is, it's also problematic. This episode was filled with disempowered women being treated poorly by men. No woman this week was actually in a place to determine her own future, whether because she was being forced into something by men or because the show is written in such a way that she must stand up to patriarchal expectations. All of that is a problem, and so while I want to savor Cersei's comeuppance, there's a part of me that's sad because she was the only woman left who operated outside of this framework. Now that's gone.

The trouble with a character like Cersei on a show like this is that I want to love her purely because I appreciate a good female villain, and Cersei is an awesome female villain. But since all the other women on the show are treated poorly, it's hard to cheer when justice finally comes. Horrible or not, Cersei was iconic, and now she's rotting in a dungeon. Like I said, problematic.

I've been told that the next episode has lots of zombie action scene awesomeness, but I have yet to discover if it has any depth or dimension to the female characters and their suffering. I guess we'll find out.

I love to hate you. I hope you know that.


  1. He is the most logical choice, but there's something really worrisome about Jon giving command of Castle Black to the man who most challenged him for its command. Also, Ser Thorne is very honest about his views on Jon's mission. Like Jon says, we appreciate your honesty. Now shut up.

    This is the point of no return for one of them, I would suspect. I could just as easily see Thorne trying to take the Watch back or having Jon cemented in his eyes as a commander who'll put the Watch over his personal issues (and if the latter gets cemented, I can't see Thorne not responding to it - whatever his other faults, he takes the Watch *very* seriously).

    Gilly has just nearly been raped, but sure. Fine. Whatever.

    How much were the rape attempt and aftermath scenes about Gilly and how much about seeing Sam step up heroically? (If you really want to demonstate the latter, I think taking on the White Walker and the battle for Castle Black pretty well cover it, you know?).

    Now Ramsay keeps her locked in a room all the time and comes in at night to beat and rape her. Ugh.

    And with Sansa and Brienne effectively in holding patterns, it looks even more like this arc is all about Theon. And while, after everything Ramsey's done to him, I'm willing to accept that he has more right to bloody revenge than Sansa does, so far,* I basically didn't care about him when that started, and still don't now. So I really dislike Sansa's development being sacrificed to him.

    * Ugh.

    1. I really wish they had gone that route with Thorne. I think it would have been a really compelling storyline to have him and Jon building an uneasy alliance over how they both want what's best for the Watch, they just disagree so strongly on what that is.

      Almost zero of that scene was about Gilly. She was a functional non-entity, and you can really see that in how the story neglected to at all examine her motivations in that moment or afterwards.

      Yup. This arc is all about Theon. And while I don't hate how it played out, it would have worked so much better if it were in tandem with a Sansa story, not instead of it.

  2. I found it really, really sad how 'Meh' Gilly after almost being gang-raped, but it makes sense when you consider that she grew up in Crastor's Keep and had a kid by her own father (as did many of her sisters).

    1. I just really wanted her to acknowledge that, you know? Like, yeah, Gilly might be entirely meh about it because of her backstory, but if so, she should say that. She should own her story, rather than it just being a footnote to talking about how sweet Sam is.